Shante' Sojourn Zenith

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Stemming from Haudenosaunee culture, the phrase Long Body is a way of describing the self as a fractal ecosystem held within ancestral and ecological fields of relationships.

 

A multi-media podcast and graduate thesis, Long Body Prayers explores six textures of animist perception that can support a relational remediation process for kin who have been touched by colonization. 

 

Long Body Prayers is both a call and response to the wider body of earth and ancestors, a prayer for creative response-ability through relationship with more-than-human-beings, gesturing towards a felt sense of “original belonging” beyond words. 

Shante' Sojourn Zenith

Shante' Sojourn Zenith

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Excerpt from my thesis project for Goddard College:

Tracing the Long Body

I use the term Long Body in my practice frequently, imaging the felt sense creativity of my animal organism as a kind of fruiting body, the tip of an entire cascade of roots connecting my aliveness to the wider bodies that sustain my life.

Recently, I started to become aware of the fact that I did not know the cultural context through which the term Long Body emerged. So I started to research the cultural lineage of the term and try to find the point at which there was knowledge transmission of the phrase from a Haudenosaunee person to a European person. I especially wanted to learn the original words that Long Body was translated from and what mythology was attached to the term within Haudenosaunee culture. 

I searched for several weeks and was amazed to find absolutely nothing. In all the writing I have been able to find about it online, nowhere has there been a description of how white academics came to learn this concept from the Haudenosaunee people, an absence that effectively invisibilizes the process of indigenous knowledge transmission and the particular cultural context from which the term emerged. Besides Bayo Akomolafe, all of the people I have seen using the term Long Body are white. All of them cite other white scholars as their sources for the term. So far, the furthest back I have traced the phrase is an essay from 1986, “Psi and the Phenomenology of the Long Body,” which cites an earlier university lecture from a Dr. Joseph Lyons. That’s where the trail runs dry as I haven’t been able to find any documentation of Dr. Lyons’s work on the internet. 

Eventually I turned to my community of animist somatic teachers to seek their advice for this conundrum. My teacher Dare Sohei wrote back:

all words are spirits that point to spirits, these spirits that point to spirits also come from spirits (i.e. the original receivers/creators of the words, the persons that heard the words and shared them in books etc) therefore, all words can be related with as spirits directly (spirits who have many relations and many "parents"), which can allow a "new" direct experience/dream of contact/encounter that is "yours".

Based on this recommendation from Dare, I began a process of journeying with the term Long Body to learn directly from the spirit of the word about its origins. 

Here is some of what I heard:

Lost in snows, no absences but those unmerited, uncalled for, melted into air. Warming self by fire, the web of entanglements. This was always known, whispered by flames. It only came into being as a concept to be given to the ones who didn’t have it anymore. A perception of the frozen absences—an insight into those who had forgotten their own belonging. It was already a translation, whispering a memory into the bones. Arising out of a moment of contact. 

The long body is the gestation of soul, the wider unfolding outside of the human womb. The long body is the tree within the seed. The imprint of forest giving birth to new life, the energies and shadows that sustain your remembering, the full cycle—the journey of water gushing forth underground and back to the source. 

Of course the transmission is invisible. It is one of those portal places, the absence that both obscures and illuminates the pattern in itself. Why cry for the loss of this direct knowledge? Maybe it was never yours in the first place. As soon as it passed it transmogrified into the shape that was needed. Wolves devouring the carcass, it is here to meet a hunger. The word was always an offering, a prayer for remembering, a seed to plant in the soil of your own becoming.

What emerged for me out of this journey is that the absence this term carries with it is also a part of its teaching. Part of the dissociative spell of my kin’s ancestral trauma is the creation of absences that trail with us everywhere.

I can feel this absence all around me, haunting my lack of relationship with the materials that sustain my life. My very existence right now is sustained by invisiblized relationships: from the heat in my room to the light, the computer I’m writing on, the chair that holds me, the chocolate and pomegranate I ate earlier…all of these beings that support my life are ones I am not in reciprocal relationship with where I can feel the impact that I create. Even the desk that I write at, the family heirloom of a friend of mine, is an object displaced from context. I do not know who built this desk, the kind of tree it's made of, or the specific texture of that tree’s bark against my hand. Instead of these relationships, there is an industrial scale dissociative complexity outsourcing survival to supply chains—leaving little space for response-ability in a tangle of extractive relationships so massive there is no way for me to respond to all of the impacts that my existence is making on this earth.  

In a recording of an audience Q&A, Nora Bateson speaks about this same pattern of dissociated extraction: 

My clothing, probably my breakfast, most of the technology and furniture in this room, the way each of us got here, all of this—is made possible through exploitation and extraction. The institutions of our world have allowed this to happen. That is our moment. This has been true for decades, maybe centuries, but there’s an acute sense that the time is up. And that it’s not comfortable, it’s not do-able to continue in that way. But to pay attention to it causes an unbearable broken heart that has the risk of debilitating the creativity to respond.

How do you notice an absence? A dissociation? What is its shape? How do you even begin to notice that a gap is there where a relationship should have been? 

Shante' Sojourn Zenith